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NIHR Local Authority Academic Fellowship Programme and Associated Opportunities


This programme of fellowship schemes and short placement awards supports individuals based within English local authority settings to develop as health and/or social care researchers whilst retaining their existing employment and salary. This new initiative provides exciting opportunities for a wide range of individuals.Information:

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In order to address the complex health and social care challenges of the 21st century, it is crucial to develop and support future research leaders from a wide range of settings and disciplines. The Local Authority Academic Fellowship (LAAF) Programme and similarly focused short placement awards are designed to strengthen the capacity for English local authority settings to generate and support health and social care research by offering research training awards to the individuals that work within them.

The training opportunities include four schemes:

  • Local Authority Short Placement Award for Research Collaboration (LA SPARC) Scheme
  • LAAF Programme Pre-Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship (PLAF) Scheme
  • LAAF Programme Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship (DLAF) Scheme
  • LAAF Programme Advanced Local Authority Fellowship (ALAF) Scheme

Additional schemes, including complementary post-doctoral funding opportunities, may be added to the LAAF Programme in the future.

By offering this range of funding opportunities to individuals embedded within English local authority settings, these schemes contribute to the development of a credible ‘practitioner academic’ career pathway within local authorities and local authority supporting services.

What the awards provide

Each class of award provides protected time within an individual's current employment to undertake fully funded research training, professional development and, depending on the scheme, a research project and academic qualifications.

StageLA SPARCPLAFDLAFALAF                           
Competition Launch Autumn January September March
Application Deadline Winter March November  Late May
Award Start Date April - February September - March September - March April - September
Duration (when taken full-time) Short placements 1 year or 6 months 3 years 2 to 5 years

Local Authority SPARC (LA SPARC)

The scheme provides funds for short ‘placement opportunities’ in a part of the NIHR (e.g a Biomedical Research Centre, Applied Research Collaboration, NIHR School etc.). It supports individuals working in local authority settings and NIHR Academy members allowing movement between NIHR/academia and local authority settings in either direction. These will be bespoke, personalised training and career development placements for individuals to develop their skills, knowledge and expertise, train in a specific technique and build meaningful relationships with other researchers.

These placements will draw on the skills of both the academic and NIHR, and the local authority setting to co-produce research that delivers real benefits to people and communities. This may appeal to those who are interested in enhancing their careers, in experiencing research from a different perspective or perhaps looking to take the next step in developing a practice academic career.

Individuals can apply to LA SPARC for up to £15,000 to undertake a bespoke short placement. Applications are short/light-touch and will be assessed in open competition.

Useful resources for prospective applicants

NIHR LA SPARC Round 3 Guidance Notes - September 2023

Pre-Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship (PLAF) Scheme

These fully funded pre-doctoral fellowships enable awardees to retain their existing employment contracts and salaries, whilst protecting their time to prepare an application for a PhD fellowship and undertake a fully funded programme of relevant Masters level training.

Useful resources for prospective applicants

NIHR PLAF Chair's Report - Round 3

NIHR PLAF Scheme Selection Committee

NIHR PLAF Guidance Notes - Round 4

NIHR PLAF Summary for Managers

"One of the benefits of the award for me is flexibility. Being able to stay in my current job whilst continuing with further study and research has taken away all the barriers that previously stopped me returning to academia after completing an MA in social work 10 years ago.”

Charlotte Ashworth, NIHR Pre-doctoral Local Authority Fellowship

Read Charlotte's story

Doctoral Local Authority Fellowship (DLAF) Scheme

These fully funded doctoral fellowships enable awardees to retain their existing employment contracts and salaries, whilst protecting their time to undertake a PhD by research, undertake academic training and develop professional skill sets.

Useful resources for prospective applicants

NIHR DLAF Scheme Selection Committee

NIHR DLAF Chair's Report - Round 2

NIHR DLAF Guidance Notes for Applicants - Round 3

NIHR DLAF Summary for Managers

Advanced Local Authority Fellowship (ALAF) Scheme

These fully funded post-doctoral fellowships support doctorate holders to undertake further research and research training, while remaining employed within, or at least salaried to work in support of, a local authority setting.

An ALAF supports the award holder to develop their research skills and their professional skill sets in parallel. The scheme provides salaried time to undertake:

  • a funded research project
  • a funded programme of academic training and development,
  • a practice or policy role, and
  • a funded programme of professional training and development.

Between 20% and 40% of the fellowship must be dedicated to professional practice and development.

Useful resources for prospective applicants

NIHR ALAF Scheme Selection Committee

NIHR ALAF Guidance Notes - Round 2

Chair's Report from ALAF Round 1

Other NIHR schemes open to local authority professionals

Post-doctoral public health researchers seeking to apply to the NIHR for a personal award should be aware that, in addition to the above, several other schemes run alternative competitions to similar timetables. It may be, depending on personal circumstance, that one of the below represents a more appropriate offer than the scheme described in detail on this page.

  • The Advanced Fellowship supports individuals undertaking research in any scientific discipline or sector that can demonstrate a contribution to improving health and/or care.

  • The Advanced Clinical and Practitioner Academic Fellowship supports health and care professionals, including individuals registered with UK Public Health Register (excluding doctors and dentists) to undertake health or care research whilst progressing their clinical or practice career.

  • The Population Health Career Scientist Award supports senior academics that are undertaking research delivered outside of NHS settings which aims to address the wider determinants of health.

Who can apply?

LAAF programme

The LAAF programme awards are available to individuals of any profession or background, with the exception of doctors and dentists who can already access equivalent dedicated funding opportunities. Applicants must, however, be employed in England by:

  • a local authority
  • a provider of local authority commissioned services
  • a non-profit organisation (such as a charity) that provides services on behalf of a local authority, or supports a local authority in meeting its objectives.

These schemes represent exciting new opportunities for a wide range of individuals, but especially for those without professional social worker or clinician status. Eligible clinicians and social workers are welcome to apply for support from this programme or from the other existing NIHR Academy administered programmes that cater for their own professional groups, but cannot apply to both concurrently.


To be eligible to apply for the LA SPARC, individuals should hold a minimum level of qualification at degree level (BSc/BA) or equivalent and hold a contract of employment in England with either a:

  • local authority
  • provider of local authority commissioned services (including those based in the NHS)
  • non-profit organisation (such as a charity) that provides services on behalf of a local authority, or that otherwise supports a local authority in meeting its objectives
  • be a Public Health Specialty Trainee based in England

The placement must be focused around early translational (experimental medicine), clinical and applied research that pertains to health, public health and/or social care.

Guidance notes

Prospective applicants are strongly advised to read the scheme specific applicant guidance notes in full before beginning an application:

The LAAF programme and LA SPARC can only support research, or the development of research, that meets the NIHR Academy remit for personal awards.

Other NIHR funding

  • Public Health Research 
    This programme funds primary research (mainly evaluative, but also some preparatory research) and secondary research (evidence synthesis) that will inform the delivery of practical non-NHS interventions, intended to improve the health of the public, and reduce inequalities in health.
  • HEE/NIHR Integrated Clinical Academic Programme
    This programme provides personal research training awards to health and social care professionals, excluding doctors and dentists, who wish to develop careers that combine research and research leadership with continued practice and professional development.

Contact us

Call: 0113 532 8444

Email: for the local authority fellowships programme or for the LA SPARC.